The Coronavirus Diaries, 22nd April 2020

Fortunately no pre-eight in the morning power tools this morning. Not that MasterB allows sleep beyond seven. His breakfast is a fixed star in his day. He had woke me around half past three. The unmistakable sound of a cat about to empty his stomach. He was on the bed at the time. I was up in a trice, had picked him up gently and made it to the bathroom where there is a floor that is easy to clean before anything left his mouth. I was expecting a hairball, but this looked like biscuits. As his appetite was in no way impaired at breakfast time, nor for the rest of the day, I think biscuits eaten too quickly would be my diagnosis.

After breakfast he seemed to think we should get on with the latest jigsaw.

Let’s do this!

But I had other tasks in mind.

Use of washing machines is embargoed in these flats until eight, so I was ready with my finger on the button. White towels, bed linen, bath mat, face flannels, blouses and tee shirts all drying in the sunshine felt good. I don’t know why getting the washing out on the line, blowing about and drying in sunshine should be so pleasing to me but it is. Simple pleasures. I had other work to do in the garden. My friend Michèle kindly gave me some cuttings that have rooted, and I found geraniums at Sainsbury’s. It took a while, and Celia came round with the cat food which had been delivered to her address, and some very lovely bread. We talked and mooched a bit and then she left and I continued with my raking, trimming and planting. Fingers crossed everything takes. We are due continued fine weather, so at this rate even the tomato plants should be outside before long.

Celia reckons the skies are bluer now than usual for April in London. I may have to dig out some photos from last year to see. I reminded her of the Guildford circular walk we did on Easter Sunday in glorious weather last year. She was dismissive – you’d expect bluer skies in Compton, she said.

I read tonight that social distancing may have to continue until the end of the year. So that sounds like no blackberry picking walk, and no visit to family in Northern Ireland (and therefore no lunches at the divine falafel place by the museum in Belfast). I got a message from my cousin-in-law Michele to say Uncle Bill was well and had been out in the garden. That’s good news. I had seen a postcard of Ballynahinch where he lived before Aunt Ella died and he moved in with his older son. It was from the early twentieth century, posted I think by the Linen Hall Library, with the caption ‘social distancing Ballynahinch style’. I should see if I can find it to post here. Aha, I have it! Click here to see it.  Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th March 2020

To be honest I do not know if I shall keep up daily diary posts if this goes on for six months. It would probably be good for my mental health and to look back at in a couple of years when I hope this all feels even more unreal than it does now.

Just a local walk today. I had already braved Morrison’s. I must take my camera next time so I can show my non-shopping friends the changes made to the inside of the shop to protect shoppers from each other. Ditto that thought for M&S. Loads of food on the shelves, even green veg, hallelujah. Lots and lots of bananas. So not like the war then.

Back home and down to work and then lunch, curried lentil soup if you’re asking, and still curried lentil soup if you’re not. I was down to the last few spoonfuls when the ‘phone rang. Not a number I recognised, but hey ho. It was Uncle Bill. I am so glad I answered. He sounded well, told me about the new wee hen that is in her socially isolated space until she has built up some strength to outrun her two new sisters or stick up for herself. She, like the others is an ex laying hen. That doesn’t mean she won’t lay eggs now, just that she doesn’t lay enough for the farmer who owned her to think her worth keeping alive. Uncle Bill was saying you might have expected some compassion from the other two hens, as they come from a similarly deprived background. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s a dog eat dog world in the hen hierarchy. There had been a previous hen, a very bossy one, who kept these two under the claw, but the fox got her. Uncle Bill hinted that this was karma.
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Bring Out Another Thousand

“Weather permitting,” said the email, “the boats will go back in the water 28th March”. Fortunately I am not working that day, neither is Older Nephew, so we should be water borne again – weather permitting. But getting the date meant checking Stuart is free to apply the anti fouling in advance of the relaunch (should I take champagne?) and in advance of the antifouling the boat needs to be cleaned from stem to stern. Not a job I fancied doing alone. Fortunately Older Nephew was again free and having looked at the forecast we agreed on Thursday. Except the forecast changed to heavy snow. Nooooo. Yesterday’s forecast was for strong winds, showers and sunshine. I bought my train ticket and left London in a heavy downpour.

You’d have to be living in the Big Brother House not to know of the widespread, heartbreaking flooding that has afflicted much of middle England. Any climate deniers reading this, get a grip. We need to act and act fast. This is the End if we don’t. But not having been out of London in the last few weeks I was unaware just how close to the capital the fields were flooded. From the elevated safety of the railway line I looked at submerged field upon field, at broken bridges, and bizarrely a rabbit sitting looking relaxed on what was now an island. Had it been forced above ground from a flooded burrow? Human beings can do amazing things, but I am fast coming to the conclusion the planet would have been better off without us. As an aside, can anyone here understand why Greta Thunberg attracts such anger from (mainly) white middle aged men, often with money? Do they think we can save the planet by ignoring the scale of the disaster we have created? Ostriches look intellectually superior in comparison.

It was dry when Older Nephew and I were reunited at Cambridge. Windy, but dry. After a brief detour to his house to collect a ladder, we headed for the marina. The sun shone. The single track road was more undulating than ever. I wondered if I was wearing too many layers. When I got out of the car and the wind sliced through my clothing I knew I wasn’t. Sections of the fencing at the marina were missing. The grass was blown into horizontal postures.

Wind flattened


The field next door was soggy.

Soggy field

Teased teasels


I pulled on my waterproof trousers and rubber gloves, filled buckets of water to which we added the environmentally friendly boat cleaner, and we set to work. Continue reading

Of holy vegetables, a plague of pennywort and diverse lives

The butter beans for tonight’s meal are bubbling away on the hob. I have just enjoyed my lunch, and am having a moment’s post prandial relaxation while the digestive processes get to work. It’s a beautiful day; sunny with a breeze which means I need to make sure I don’t burn when I go about my next self-imposed task to start cleaning the boat covers. I say start, because I want to see if the brushes on the cordless drill will make the job easier. However, I forgot to bring the charger, so how much charge is in the drill remains to be seen.

I have visited Reach, picked some blackberries to give my downstairs neighbours as a thank-you for keeping an eye on the plants these last couple of days, and doing my almost daily shop at the organic farm. Again I bought spinach. The other day I noticed there was a separate batch of spinach, half the price of the rest. This is what the label said:

Holey Spinach

Now the farm, as I have written before, as well as being organic also employs people with a range of disability, including those with learning difficulties. I assumed this was a spelling mistake. After all there’s holy basil, so why not holy spinach. Then I noticed the holey kale and the penny dropped. These were bags of veg with holes in.

The farm is my favourite place to buy flowers for my time afloat too.

Flower selection

At Burwell I filled the car with petrol and had a little explore. Burwell calls itself a village, but it’s huge. If only there were still a railway station there. I stumbled upon this chapel. It was the chimney that caught my eye at first.

Unexpected chapel, Burwell

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Looking Back at My Holiday

I have been working pretty solidly since getting home, the weekend no exception. I got back tonight and, having fussed MasterB, fed him, cleared the poo from the litter tray, I made my own evening meal. I lingered over it, knowing that when I put my fork down I needed to read some notes for work tomorrow morning when the alarm will be set for six thirty. So a few minutes ago, when i looked at some pictures from my recent holiday they were a welcome reminder of rest and relaxation.

A man came to the house with a book that belonged to his family. Generations past they kept a shop, and it seems my family were among the customers. Cousin and I scanned pages from the 1840s, worried perhaps we were going to find unpaid bills that would by now have accrued considerable interest. There were lots of sundries, quantities of leather, salt, tobacco and bread, but fortunately no outstanding debts. Phew.

Groceries and Sundries

Visiting Uncle Bill, now resident with his son, another of my cousins, we again admired the temperament of the two dogs, brother and sister, found with their mother abandoned by the side of the road in a ditch. They seem to have suffered no lasting trauma.

Bookend Dogs

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Friday: At the Helicon

The dogs did not have much walking yesterday; just one, half the length of those they have enjoyed every other day. We were meeting Vola for an early lunch at the Thatch, a pub I had never set foot inside until yesterday. The pub is run by members of Vola’s family, including Michaela, the granddaughter of Cousin’s friend and my partner in literary jaunts Anne who died two years ago. I last saw Michaela about the time she transferred from primary to secondary school, so it took me a few moments to realise who she was.
Vola started talking about the Van Morrison shows in Bellaghy yesterday. She hadn’t been, but she said there was a great buzz and so much traffic that the town came to a standstill. Cousin and I took note and turned up for tonight’s gig an hour and a half early. Even so, most of the parking spaces were full. It was a beautiful evening, the day had been hot and sunny. We sat outside with some drinks; Diet Coke for Cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon for me and watched and talked as the place filled up. Is there anyone you know, I asked her. She looked around her. No, she said but I think that man is Patrick Magee, the Brighton Bomber.
Time passed quickly. We finished our drinks and headed for the Ladies just before the announcement to ask us to take our seats. Very good seats as it turned out. Back row by the aisle, with a perfect view of the stage. We watched as the roadies completed their work.

Set up

Two minutes to seven and the band strode in stage. I have to say the band because I don’t know the musicians’ names, but they were amazing. All played multiple instruments. If Van the Man had had to pull out for any reason they alone would have been worth seeing and hearing. The keyboard player, who we guessed was the band leader, and the percussionist were the first to make my jaw drop. Continue reading

Wednesday

Morning:
The number of dogs to be walked today is growing. Cousin’s Son D and his wife have gone to Liverpool with her brother for the day, leaving their two dogs at home. I shan’t walk them all together, so I shall probably get three walks myself, meaning my step counter should be recording a good number by nightfall. The main road has become so much busier it rules out any walks that take in even a small stretch of it, so the only down side is the repetitive nature of these walks. However, at this time of year there are always new plants coming into flower, calves in the fields, neighbours on the road.

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In a moment we are off to Bellaghy to collect our tickets for Friday (Van Morrison) and Sunday (Alan Johnson). Two very different ‘acts’ at the same venue, the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. In preparation for listening to Alan Johnson, I caught up on his memoirs. He has written four volumes, and until a month or so ago I had only read the first one. The fourth has recently come out in paperback, so I am guessing this round of talks and interviews he is doing is to promote sales. It’s a musical memoir. I was nearly at the end when I realised The was no mention of Van the Man. A quick glance at the index confirmed the Belfast Cowboy’s omission. On the spur of the moment I sent Alan Johnson an email. Somewhat to my surprise I received a reply within forty-eight hours. He explained he loved Astral Weeks, but there were other musicians whose music he preferred to Morrison’s. It was a pleasant friendly email, as one would expect from this Johnson. Continue reading

The week so far

Monday
Already a day behind. I am reassured to read that 59% of people polled in a survey wouldn’t trust Boris Johnson enough to buy a second hand car from him. However as a significant number of members of the Tory party have chosen to elect him to a post which is somewhat more important than selling second hand cars, that reassurance is tempered with fear.
Some of the red tops are printing headlines suggesting Johnson is a champion, a knight in shining armour who is going to tilt with the EU and get an advantageous Brexit deal. This is disingenuous. For one, there is no deal that would make leaving the EU a better option than staying in. Secondly, the EU has made it clear there is no better deal than the one secured under Theresa May for Brexit. Johnson et al are engaged in window dressing, preparing to blame the EU for intransigence, when the ones being intransigent are Johnson et al. These same Merry band of cynics will then turn to the electorate, claiming to be patriots, and call a election. It feels like a runaway train. What we need is someone who can apply the brake.
Anyway enough of such things today.
The promised rain came at breakfast time yesterday, so we had a slow start, but by midday Cousin and I were on the bus to Belfast. We had been expecting to go out to meet her daughter K and go on to Downpatrick, but Cousin’s ‘phone rang once we were on the road to say the plans had changed. So instead we spent a few pleasant hours in the city, and I acquired a Van Morrison self-guided walking tour manual. I didn’t manage to get a collapsible lunch box for Celia as they were out of stock, but
I did make the decision to purchase a reversible dress for my second great niece. I had seen them when I was with Fiona, but was hesitant. Second great niece has a big sister and bigger girl cousins, so has an inherited wardrobe. I decided to Ask Her Mother. She gave the purchase the thumbs up, so in a few days the postman should be delivering one of these.
Tuesday:
A two walk day, the first with one dog, the second, appropriately, with two. Westie Boy went well ff to the beautician with Toots this morning, so Poppy and I had a walk on our own. She is very interested in the cows, not in a bad way. She wags her tail, and her body language is entirely friendly. Some of the cows seem to reciprocate her interest, leaning over the hedges and sniffing the air. I was back in Belfast, back at the falafel place, back at the Ulster Museum. I could spend a lot of time there very happily. I loved the Cornelia Parker Left Right and Centre film. Also the exhibition of woodcuts by women artists. Inevitably I didn’t have enough time, and I don’t know if I’ll get the opportunity to get back before my return home. Suddenly the days are speeding by. We are hoping to see Uncle Bill on Thursday, it’s Van Morrison on Friday, Alan Johnson on Sunday, and I still haven’t quite finished my book An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris which I am finding gripping.

Tomorrow, Cousin’s daughter K is coming with the lovely Westie Pup, now the sweetest natured little dog you ever could meet, so it could be a three dog walk. The chances of taking pictures with three leads are about nil.

Slievegrine Gallion at sunset

Fungi

At the top of the hill

The Roads Well Travelled

My photographs so far are fairly sparse.

Sunshine

Fungi

In my defence, it is quite tricky to take photographs when you have a Westie at the end of a lead in your left hand, and a yellow Labrador at the end of a lead in your right. And you are making sure each dog stays ‘in lane’ so that you don’t get tripped up, tangled or twisted.

Poppy at the field gate

Other than that, the walks up and down the lane have mainly gone well. I say mainly as both canines disgraced themselves when we met a black Labrador, also on a lead, on the road. Honestly, you’d have thought they had been brought up in the gutter, or had never seen another dog in their lives. Gone were the socially adjusted dogs I know. Poppy and Westie Boy tolerate each other rather than being best mates, but faced with a dog they didn’t know they reacted as one, lunging and barking.

Once was enough, but we met the dog again and the whole performance was repeated. Seeing another dog coming towards us I expected the worst, but apart from suddenly pricked ears and quickened gait, we walked by without incident.

During the day yesterday I took the longer road to Belfast, travelling there and back by bus to meet Fiona. Regular readers of this blog will anticipate an account of shopping, but not this time. On Wednesday afternoon a friend of Cousin’s called at the house. She runs an antique business and I have been a customer of hers in the past. Her daughter Charlotte is a curator at the Ulster Museum, and curated the Fashion and Feminism exhibition Fiona and I visited last year. I said how much we’d enjoyed it, and a few hours later we got a message to say Charlotte would be happy to take us around her new exhibition Vice Versa.

It’s not a large exhibition, one gallery, but fascinating. Charlotte loves her job it’s clear. She talks knowledgeably and entertainingly. It was a lesson in socio-economic history, and much much more. Charlotte will be doing talks and arranging workshops I shan’t be about to attend, but i’ve A feeling Fiona might. Continue reading

Some pictures and thoughts from last week

I am looking at my diary and wondering if I can return to das Boot sooner rather than later. The good thing about being freelance is that you can take time off. The bad thing is that when you do, you don’t get paid.

Cow parsley

Flat earth and cows

But having discussed Mother’s ashes with Older Nephew who is going to think about the issue, our minds naturally enough turned towards my father.

Alert

Stretch

He was a fit man though an ex smoker, an ex Royal Marine Commander, a man who was always on the go. Barely a year after retiring he suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage from which physically he recovered well. But it shook him. Suddenly his body had let him down. Mentally it took longer.

One swan with reflection

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